Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's A Wonder We Don't Eat Our Young

"Dear Jess Jackson, You are a complete wuss!! Thank you for, yet again crushing the hopes of racing fans everywhere. Please grow some testicles and run your horse against me like you promised America you would. Thanks!!- Z"

- Status of "Zenyatta" on her Facebook fan page after the decision not to run Rachel Alexandra in the Apple Blossom

"Rachel is overrated....a horse racing exemplification of an air-ball....overrated....chonk chonk ch-chon-cha-chonk-adonk-overrated tw*t..."

- Comment on a Yahoo! Sports article on the Apple Blossom

I was searching for the nasty comments regarding Zenyatta, but they were too far back for me to dig up. But make no mistake - they were there. That she was a 'false' champion for never leaving home. That the Moss' were scared to run her on dirt or way from home. That she was simply the marvel of the synthetic surface and weak home state competition. It went on and on as well.

This should be a time that we look at the racing industry and think "Damn, are we lucky!" Instead, the blessing we have received by having two of the greatest distaffers of all time racing during the same time period has turned into a degrading and disgusting attempt to try and discredit and belittle each other's camp.

My choice for Horse of the Year last year was Rachel Alexandra. I simply thought her campaign criss-crossing half the country, beating not only her class, but 3-year old colts and older colts as well, was a better body of work than Zenyatta. My clear choice for moment of the year was Zenyatta's win in the Breeder's Cup Classic. I still don't think that I have ever seen a greater performance in my life. Secretariat in the Belmont may be close, but it was different: it was clear domination. Zenyatta's win was surreal.

The more I read, the sadder I get. Instead of being appreciative of what we were - and hopefully will continue to - able to witness last year it has become imperative for "fans" to tear down the other side. Right now it's Rachel and her connections' turn to be lambasted for being "afraid". Last year it was Zenyatta and her connections' turn for the very same reasons.

How about we admit, first of all, that these are racehorses, not machines? They do have to be fit and ready. They do have preferred surfaces. They may not fire every time out on the track. It is a very real possibility that Steve Asmussen may be right (horrors!) that Rachel was not fit and ready to go. Is it THAT important to be committed to the April 9 date or is it MORE important that the athlete is at her best and ready to go? I would think that Asmussen and John Shirreffs know more about their horses than we do. I'm willing to take them at their word.

Secondly, shut the hell up with the bashing already. I made my case for horse of the year last year in this space and on the radio show. I also prefaced every comment with, "I think that Zenyatta is amazing and it would not break my heart if she won". In my opinion, the important thing - the overwhelmingly important thing - is that I was lucky enough to be able to see the two of them run. Some of the greatest performances in racing occurred last year and were provided by these two. We are tremendously blessed to be graced by BOTH of these racehorses. It's time each "side" recognized the attributes of the other.

Finally, I want these two to meet - preferably more than once. I would like to see them go three or four times over dirt, synthetic and maybe even a romp over the grass. I do NOT want to see them in a match race. I also want both to be sharp, sound and at their best. At the end of the day, our sport is about winning. That is why we run the races. It's commendable to be passionate about your favorite horses. But be passionate about YOUR favorite horses, not against a competitor.

As racing fans we've had a lot to moan about the last few years: lower handle, dismal sales numbers, higher takeouts, bankruptcies and the closing of landmark racetracks to name a few. We have the opportunity to enjoy two of the greatest to ever step on a track. Don't lose sight of the beauty in front of you and get dragged down into the mire. There is no shame in admiring them both. In fact, it may be a bit helpful for the sport if we did. Racing could use this to bring more appeal to the masses and showcase two great champions. Let's take all that energy and channel it into something positive for the sport, not yet another self-inflicted black eye.


Suzanne said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I am a huge fan of Rachel and also think Zenyatta is awesome. I am also a racing newbie, and have been really disgusted by all of the negativity and name-calling.

This is really starting to put me off horse racing. I will keep following Rachel's career because I love her to pieces, but your blog title is very on the mark.

malcer said...

Being able to watch - let's say: "two of the best female American racehorses in a long time", everything above that is hyperbole, really - is a mixed blessing if they don't actually compete against each other.

I appreciate most of your points, but it is the very nature of the sport we love that at its bottom, there's always the basic question "who's better". And if the respective camps of both horses keep stalking around each other citing at times ridiculous excuses, it's also not surprising that the fans of the sport start to lose patience.

If two horses like these campaign for more than a year without ever meeting each other, I would frankly prefer not to see them at all. Not to have a toy isn't hurting a child, but to be teased with the prospect of it just to be denied time and time again is almost cruel.

Oh, and Jess' drama queenish behavior ('Oh, I won't run my perfectly healthy filly until she is at 99.8%, and then only if all the circumstances are absolutely perfect') is indeed feeling more than a bit wussy by now.

Sandra Warren said...

Ok, ok, I've definitely been one of the Rachel bashers in the last 48 hours. I can't help it, because Zenyatta was robbed. Undefeated, and quite clearly untested, she should have won Horse of the Year in 2008 instead of Curlin, who was a nice horse but lost a lot of races including The Big One, and who ran against the worst crop of male horses I've ever seen. So a year goes by, Queen Z is still undefeated and untested, she runs against all comers in the Breeders Cup (which is ducked by Rachel), and who gets the HOY again? Jess Jackson, who then proceeds to "schedule" a three race series and all other kinds of BS rather than just face the one horse he's afraid Rachel can't beat.

I am mildly ashamed of myself for my schadenfreude. After all, if there was no Zenyatta, I'd be saying, "Woman Power!" and wearing a Rachel T-shirt. I celebrate her greatness--but truly great horses are defined when they take on all comers. Calumet Farm ran their great horses against each other and let them fight it out. Citation ran against Coaltown, Two Lea, and Ponder. Affirmed and Alydar, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. None of these horses was diminished by losing to each other. The joy is in seeing them race together on both coasts--unless one of the owners is chicken. BA-BAWK!!

Anonymous said...

I was privileged to see both run: Rachel at the Haskell and Zenyatta at the Breeders Cup. I was disappointed in team Rachel at the paddock area. They seemed to be protective parents. Zenyatta's team on the other hand, displayed her with obvious, beaming pride. Zenyatta has a different kind of confidence and personality about her than Rachel. I almost wish that Rachel was in Zen's barn and they could hank out together. Rule the world together. oh well. Love them both, but prefer team Zenyatta for how healthy and happy they have kept her.

Becky Bain said...

I removed myself as a fan from that particular Zenyatta Facebook page when I saw that wall post. Nasty stuff, which I don't understand.

Ted, I agree with just about everything you wrote. I feel so lucky to be able to watch these two absolutely amazing racehorses. I, too, hope they meet more than once. How amazing would that be? And I don't understand why people can't say "I prefer Horse A to Horse B" without then feeling the need to denigrate Horse B and her connections. Me, I'm a Zenyatta fan (except on Facebook!), but I stand in awe of what Rachel has accomplished. And while I was rooting for Z to get HOY, I knew in my heart that Rachel deserved it SLIGHTLY more. :)

I commend Mr. Asmussen and Mr. Jackson for taking care of their horse (although I admit I'd have more respect for their decision-making process if they'd waited to really see how she came out of the race - but of course there may be something there that I'm not aware of, as I'm not in the barn with her). I believe we will see Rachel later this year, and that she will be awesome. I just think Zenyatta will be a little more awesome.

Anyway, thanks for being a voice of reason.

Ted Grevelis said...

Thank you all for reading and, especially, taking the time to comment.

Suzanne - I hope you can put aside the people and enjoy the sport. It really is wonderful!

Malcer - I hope they run against each other, and often. I tend to take Jackson at his word...right now. That may change, but I think he and, especially, Asmussen, know their girl better than I.

Sandra - An argument the Rachel "side" would throw out there re: last year is precisely the one you stated: she was untested. I have seen it argued that she was untested because the Moss' were scared to take her out of California, off the synthetic and race her against the best in the nation, not just the best in the state, and that's exactly what cost her HOY. And the word "chicken" was thrown around then as well.

Anon - I can respect that.

Becky - thanks and I agree with your comments - especially your last full paragraph.

Again, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.